Bill to reform Lifeline program would bring broadband to needy

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives April 23 aims to make it more affordable for low-income Americans to subscribe to in-home broadband service.

The Broadband Adoption Act, which modernizes the Universal Service Fund (USF) Lifeline Assistance Program, was authored by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

“The Lifeline program provides a tangible service to lower-income Americans, and it is imperative that the Lifeline program be reformed and modernized to account for broadband services,” said Matsui. “We must ensure lower-income Americans have a greater opportunity to participate in the digital economy, whether it be for workforce training, education, finding a job or creating the next big idea.”

The bill directs the FCC to set up a Lifeline Assistance program that gives low-income Americans in rural and urban communities help in subscribing to affordable broadband service. The legislation requires FCC to routinely study the prevailing market price and speed of service in calculating how much assistance to provide.

To be eligible for the assistance, the bill would require qualified households to meet federal low-income guidelines or to quality for various social service programs like Head Start or the National School Lunch Program. Eligible households would select from broadband, mobile, basic telephone or a bundled service.

To prevent duplication, the bill directs the FCC to establish a nationwide database to determine consumer eligibility.

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn issued a statement praising the bill. "One-third of Americans do not have access to broadband at home, and many do not subscribe because they cannot afford it. That is why I am pleased that Representatives Matsui, Waxman, and Eshoo have introduced the Broadband Adoption Act to provide a means for low-income families to get connected via the Lifeline program.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).